They call it mkhukhu.
This translates to a shack but it’s not the kind you find in many informal settlements in the country.
It’s a parking lot-like shelter built more than a decade ago by Fordsburg Primary School in Fordsburg, less than 3km from the Johannesburg CBD.
The shelter has no walls; only an corrugated iron roof supported by poles.
It is used to hold parental meetings and as an assembly point in the morning.
There are no sports facilities or a garden.
When City Press visited the school, pupils were playing with a skipping rope, hiding away from the blistering sun under the shelter’s shade for protection.
For school principal David Fransman, who was formally appointed in 2017, the situation was untenable.
“We don’t have a hall. This is bad. We can only have parental meetings during the day, which affects attendance. We cannot have a morning assembly or functions when it is cold or raining.”
The school was initially built for the Indian community more than 60 years ago. However, it currently serves pupils from different backgrounds, including many from other African countries.
Fransman’s school is classified as quintile four – meaning it is recognised as a well-resourced school by the department of basic education because of its location – and it is assumed that parents can afford to pay fees.
This is not really the case. Fransman said more than 40% of parents have been exempted from paying fees.
“Parents cannot afford R170 a month,” he said.
There are pupils coming from as far away as Protea Glen, west of Soweto. Fransman said they were already at the school when he arrived in 2016 as an administrator.
“They are in Grades 6 and 7. I can’t chase them away. Without sounding like I’m criticising my colleagues ... but their parents searched for a better school than they have in their society.”
But this better education isn’t bought easily by the school. It pays about R46 000 to four teachers appointed by the school governing body from a budget of R60 000 a month.
These teachers are in addition to 22 state-funded teachers who teach more than 1 000 pupils.
With the remainder, they have to find ways to cover a water bill amounting to R50 000 a month and other expenses.
The class ratio is 40 pupils to one teacher and Fransman says they need more classrooms.
To deal with some of the challenges, Fransman is pinning his hopes on several partnerships involving the private sector.
Among those is an Execs Back To School initiative organised by non-governmental organisation Symphonia for SA, alongside their established flagship programme Partners for Possibility, which is sponsored by Sphere Holdings and supported by the Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.
The initiative had 26 chief executives and top executives from the country’s largest JSE-listed and international companies including Sasol, Pearson, Merril Lynch, Consol and EOH going to schools.
Through this initiative, already about 800 schools have partnered with these chief executives across the country.
Fordsburg Primary was among those and Dr Mzukisi Qobo, founder and managing director of Afgrain Food Group, had first-hand experience of challenges faced by the school. Qobo studied under similar conditions in Langa, Khayelitsha township, in the Western Cape.
He said he had noticed many issues at the school, including those caused by social challenges.
On arrival, he witnessed social workers arriving to counsel a pupil whose uncle was stabbed in front of her.
He said it seemed that this was not an isolated case. But, Qobo said he was touched to see parents volunteering their time at the school to help pupils catch up with their lessons.
“When you look and take a walk around the school it’s not well resourced in terms of infrastructure. You could say it is better than schools in the rural areas but you would want to create a conducive environment for learning at the school and infrastructure is part of that.”
The school’s finances were also not great, he said, and the lack of sport facilities was also a challenge.
“Education is much more than cognitive development but also physical and emotional development. Sporting activities provide an important space and ground for kids to integrate to grow emotionally and to be enriched socially.”
On the positive side, Qobo said the enthusiasm of teachers and parents was extremely encouraging.
“As well as enthusiasm and passion of the principal because for a school to be functional you need a sound and functioning leadership team,” Qobo said.
He said there was a need for corporates, philanthropists and entrepreneurs with resources to be involved in schools.
Parents have to be a lot more involved, he said.
“The challenges I’ve seen in this school, which I suppose are a microcosm of what you find in these areas as well in townships are not insurmountable. They can be solved. I think gone are the times when government or government departments are the ones that can give us all solution.”
Asked what his company was going to contribute, Qobo said he had formed a relationship with Fransman.
“I think in these kinds of relationships you can’t come and say this is what I’m going to do for you. It’s not a hierarchal relationship. We are equals. We are peers with the principal. I’m here to learn as much as he is part of this programme to also learn. My strong desire is to forge a friendship with the principal to get to know him better. To get him to know me better.
“I’m not running away from your question. We will certainly make a contribution – you can hold us to that. We will make a contribution where we are able to. Where we can’t we will stretch and will co-design solutions with the principal, co-think and co-generate ideas to contribute to the school.”
Qobo said he had always been inspired by the idea of empowering the new generation of leaders and to create a breeding ground for future leaders.
“Sometimes we over conceptualise it and becomes too abstract about it when it’s really about spending time with someone getting to make a contribution and investment in a pupil and also because we live in such a negative environment everything [including] news are so negative and I think the greatest antidote to cynicism is to become involved and I look forward to this relationship as an academic, scholar and as a business person. I think there is a lot I can learn and contribute to the school.”
If he were a principal of the school, Qobo said, each pupil would be at the centre of his attention.
“A pupil is the most important unit at the school. The school exists because of pupils so it needs to centre everything around their development. If you are developing curriculum it has to build this leader of the future.”
He said that when teachers looked at the pupils they needed to see their potential.
“So when you relate to the pupil you relate to his or her potential and connect them to their potential and therefore your leadership team is galvanised towards that objective.”
Qobo said pupils at the school had “a very difficult past but their future is more potent and more powerful than where they come from”.
“That is why we have to tend, motivate and inspire them. Even if they don’t see that we have to speak it out for them to believe it,” Qobo said.
He said he was involved in the initiative to invest in the future to ensure a socially cohesive, thriving and prospering South Africa.
Grade 7 pupil, Jamela Abubakar (14), said the pupils felt that the priority was sporting facilities.
“Children are very good at sport but only if they can have opportunity to play and compete with other schools,” Abubakar said.